Print and Go Back ESPN.com: NFC South [Print without images]

Tuesday, July 10, 2012
Checking NFC South offseason grades

By Pat Yasinskas
ESPN.com

Check out this Insider postInsider in which Matt Williamson issues offseason grades for every NFC team.

When it comes to the NFC South, the teams that have been at the top the past couple of seasons, didn’t fare very well, according to Williamson.

He gave the Saints a C-, which ties them with the Lions for the worst grade in the NFC. There’s no doubt the Saints have had a turbulent offseason off the field with the bounty drama and suspensions. But you pretty much have to assume the Saints and Drew Brees will reach an agreement on a long-term contract by next week’s deadline. If they do, I don’t think the Saints are dramatically different than they were a year ago. In fact, I think you have to salute general manager Mickey Loomis for finding ways to bring in linebackers Curtis Lofton and David Hawthorne and defensive tackle Brodrick Bunkley, even though he was faced with a very difficult salary-cap situation.

Atlanta didn’t fare much better. Williamson gave the Falcons a C for their offseason. He makes the point that when you’re not moving forward in this league, you’re moving backwards. I get the point and Atlanta didn’t do anything splashy in the draft or free agency. But the Falcons were able to keep most of a talented roster intact. I think the belief in Atlanta is that adding offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter and defensive coordinator Mike Nolan might be enough to put this team over the top. I think that belief could turn out to be accurate.

Williamson gave Carolina a C+. Other than the fact the Panthers had a first-round pick (Luke Kuechly), I don’t see much difference between what they did in the offseason and what the Falcons did. Also, Atlanta was starting off with a higher talent level overall. Williamson raves about Carolina’s offensive line and potential in the running game. No argument here. But Williamson says the Panthers have a great shot to win the division this year. I think Carolina definitely is a team on the rise, but I need to see some improvement from the defense before I can call the Panthers serious title contenders.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were the big winners in Williamson’s grades They got a B+. Can’t argue too much with that. The Bucs spent a ton on free agents like Carl Nicks, Vincent Jackson and Eric Wright and drafted Mark Barron and Doug Martin in the first round. All that’s going to help a team that lost the final 10 games of last season. But Williamson may have a very valid point when he says the Bucs might need more than one offseason to really be competitive in the division.